John Skinner (archaeologist)

The Rev. John Skinner (1772–1839) was a parish vicar and amateur antiquarian and archaeologist operating mainly in the area of Bath and the villages of northern Somerset in the early nineteenth century.


Skinner was born in Claverton and educated at Oxford,[1] before becoming vicar of Camerton, Somerset from 1800 to 1839. He excavated numerous antiquities, especially barrows, such as those at Priddy, Stoney Littleton and the site which later became RAF Charmy Down;[2] and he made visits for antiquarian purposes to many places.[3][4][5]

He carried excavations at Priddy Nine Barrows and Ashen Hill Barrow Cemeteries opening many of the barrows identified cremation burials in an oval cyst which was covered by a flat stone just below where ground level would have been in the Bronze Age.[6] He also uncovered bronze daggers and spear head, decorative amber beads, a bronze ring and a small incense cup.[7][8][9][10]

Before his role as the vicar of Camerton from 1800 to 1839,[1][11] he worked in a lawyers office.[12]


His journals (1803–34), published many years after his death, are reckoned to be an important historical document, and they are preserved at the British Library. He also left other manuscripts and published accounts of a West Country tour (1797), Hadrian's Wall (1801) and the isle of Anglesey (1802). His 1802 visit to Anglesey to see the island's Celtic remains, began by rowing across the Menai Strait to land at Llanidan. His view was that the Old Church of St Nidan "seems superior to the generality of Welsh buildings of the kind", with its double roof and two bells, but he also said that "the interior of the building has little to attract notice".[13]

His tour of Wales in 1835, when he was 63, now consists of 4 bound volumes[14] comprising descriptive text (rather difficult to read) and nearly 750 sketches, an average of 15 a day, starting with coastal scenes taken when on the packet from Bristol to Swansea, landscapes, castles, abbeys, cromlechs, inscribed stones and towns, but rarely mansions. His obsession with Roman roads is reflected in the illustrations – any road which was reasonably straight was sketched and commented on.


Skinner committed suicide by shooting himself in 1839, despite which he may have been buried in consecrated ground at Camerton.[1][15]


  1. ^ a b c Thomas, Rod (2008). A Sacred landscape: The prehistory of Bathampton Down. Bath: Millstream Books. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-948975-86-8.
  2. ^ Moss (3 August 2010). "The Reverend John Skinner. Amateur archaeologist and vicar of Camerton between 1800 and 1839". The Heritage Journal. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  3. ^ Coombs, Howard and Peter (eds), Journal of a Somerset Rector (OUP, 1971, 1984) pp 508–510 has a fill list of all his tours up to 1832.
  4. ^ Thomas, Rod (2008). A Sacred landscape: The prehistory of Bathampton Down. Bath: Millstream Books. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-948975-86-8.
  5. ^ "CHERT and the Reverend John Skinner". Charterhouse Environs Research Team. Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  6. ^ Historic England. "Ashen Hill barrow cemetery: a group of eight round barrows 500m southeast of Harptree Lodge (1010513)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  7. ^ "Ashen Hill Barrows". The Modern Antiquarian. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  8. ^ Scarth, Harry M. (1859). "Some account of the investogation of barrows on the line of the old Roman road between Old Sarum and the port at the mouth of the River Axe, supposed to be the "Ad Axium" of Ravennas". The Archaeological Journal: 148–151.
  9. ^ Abercromby, John (1905). "The Chronology of Prehistoric Glass Beads and Associated Ceramic Types in Britain". The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 35: 256–265. doi:10.2307/2843066. JSTOR 2843066.
  10. ^ Firth, Hannah (2007). Mendip from the Air. Somerset Heritage Service. pp. 13–14. ISBN 9780861833900.
  11. ^ "Revd. John Skinner". Radstock Museum. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  12. ^ "New book traces life in a mining village and its rector". Western Daily Press. 15 September 2009. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  13. ^ Skinner, John (July 1908). Ten days' tour through the Isle of Anglesea December 1802. Cambrian Archaeological Association. pp. 9, 11, 28.
  14. ^ British Library, Egerton Mss 3110–3113
  15. ^ Historic England. "Skinner monument, in the churchyard and ten metres north of tower of Church of St. Peter (1135757)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 April 2014.

Further readingEdit

  • Coombs, Howard and Arthur N. Bax, eds (1930) Journal of a Somerset rector: John Skinner, A.M., antiquary, 1772–1839. Parochial affairs of the parish of Camerton, 1822–1832. British Library mss. nos. 33673-33728. London: John Murray. [Revised and enlarged edn entitled Journal of a Somerset rector, 1803–1834: parochial affairs of the Parish of Camerton British Museum manuscripts no. 33635-33728 & EG 3099F-3123F by Howard and Peter Coombs, Bath: Kingsmead 1971. New edn, same eds, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1984.]
  • Jones, Roger (1999) John Skinner's Visit to the Channel Islands: Guernsey, August 1827. Review of the Guernsey Society (Spring 1999).
  • Skinner, John (1803–34) Journals. Manuscripts: British Library Add MS 33633-33728; subsequent tours are in British Library, Egerton MS 3099–3119
  • Jones, Roger,(editor), West Country tour : being the diary of a tour through the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in 1797 by John Skinner, (Ex Libris Press, Bradford on Avon, 1985). Based on British Library Add MS 33635.
  • Skinner, John, (edited and transcribed by Rev John Fisher) "Ten Days Tour in Anglesey, 1802", published as a supplement to Archaeologia Cambrensis, July 1908, based on British Library Add MS 33636; copy (of original)in National Library of Wales MS 21031.
  • Carlyle, Edward Irving (1897). "Skinner, John (1772-1839)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 52. London: Smith, Elder & Co.